Support for “Soaking the Rich” Is Rooted in Media Misinformation

Agresti, J. D. (2019, February 18). Support for “Soaking the Rich” Is Rooted in Media Misinformation. Retrieved from
Agresti, James D. “Support for “Soaking the Rich” Is Rooted in Media Misinformation.” Just Facts. 18 February 2019. Web. 16 July 2024.<>.
Chicago (for footnotes)
James D. Agresti, “Support for “Soaking the Rich” Is Rooted in Media Misinformation.” Just Facts. February 18, 2019.
Chicago (for bibliographies)
Agresti, James D. “Support for “Soaking the Rich” Is Rooted in Media Misinformation.” Just Facts. February 18, 2019.

By James D. Agresti
February 18, 2019

Public opinion polls show high levels of support for raising taxes on the wealthy, and some people are touting these results to advance progressive tax policies. Such polls, however, are tainted by the common myth that the rich pay a lower average effective federal tax rate than the middle class. This belief has been widely spread by the media, but data from the U.S. Treasury, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Tax Policy Center prove the exact opposite is true.

Politico recently published an article by Ben White titled “Soak the Rich? Americans Say Go for It.” According to White, “the prospect of 70 percent tax rates for multimillionaires and special levies on the super-rich draw howls about creeping socialism and warnings of economic disaster,” but “when it comes to soaking the rich, the American public is increasingly on board.”

White bases his claim on a new Politico/Morning Consult poll “that found 76% of registered voters believe the wealthiest Americans should pay more in taxes.” He also cites a recent Fox News survey showing that “70% of Americans favor raising taxes on those earning over $10 million,” and “54% of Republicans” agree with this.

Politico also reports that these polls show support for the tax proposals of Democratic politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic socialist.

However, Politico fails to mention that these polls align almost perfectly with the portion of voters who have been misled to believe that the top 1% pays a lower average federal tax rate than the middle class. A recent scientific survey commissioned by Just Facts shows that 75% of voters believe this untruth, including 90% of Democrats, 61% of Republicans, and 78% of third-party voters.

This enormous disconnect between perception and reality accords with a deluge of misinformation by media outlets, which have repeatedly reported tax rates that exclude large portions of people’s taxes and/or incomes. A small sample of the perpetrators includes the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, Newsmax, the Providence Journal,, PolitiFact, CBS News, and Agence France-Presse.

Comprehensive, accurate tax rates must account for all taxes and all income. This includes hidden taxes, capital gains, loopholes, deductions, and benefits that are typically not taxed, like employee health insurance. The U.S. Treasury, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Tax Policy Center have conducted such analyses, and all of them find that the wealthy pay far higher effective federal tax rates than middle-income households:

The complete range of their findings shows tax rates for middle-income households between 12% and 14%, and tax rates for the one percent from 34% to 38%. In terms of ratios, they find that the average federal tax rate on the richest one percent is 2.4 to 3.3 times higher than middle-income households.

By feeding falsehoods to respondents, pollsters can severely distort the results of their polls. The press has done that on a wholesale basis with the American public on this issue and many others.

  • February 19, 2019 at 8:21 AM

    Until the mainstream media decides to publish FACTS instead of FAKE NEWS, and people decide to discover TRUTH instead of chasing DRAMA, it’s nearly impossible to educate people.
    Tax the rich IS supported by lobbyists, bundlers, politicians, and the pseudo-non-profits that funnel “tax-free” millions of into political campaigns. Obviously, if THEY would be paying these higher taxes, they would not support it. They’re in this game for money and power. The “correct” politicians will make sure they are amply rewarded.

  • February 19, 2019 at 1:43 PM

    The fact is that a progressive tax system requires the rich to pay a higher percentage and the charts presented are accurate, EXCEPT, that a few of the 1% find ways to pay little or no taxes due to special provisions commonly known as loop holes. If a true flat tax of 16% was levied with no exemptions it would be fairer because those at the lower end of the pay scale get much more in government benefits than the higher scale. Sweden requires those making less to pay more than we in the USA do and this makes sense since they benefit form all sorts of government programs. The top 1% can afford tax accountants and lawyers to find the loop holes in the massively complex tax system we have and the upper middle class pay the heaviest burden. FOR EXAMPLE, I know for a fact that a person making 150 Thousand a year pays the same in Social Security Taxes as the richest person in America due to the stupid cap system. Just keep tax rates FLAT AND remove the social security payroll tax cap. Since everyone will benefit from social security, that is the most logical approach and the deficit issue goes away since money will flow into he treasury just as it did under JFK, when he got rid of the punitive tax rates of the old days. I am old enough to know better. The tax rates in the past killed jobs because people just avoided doing business with America. Look how Europe is still anemic. GET RID OF UNNECESSARY COMPLEXITY.

    • March 18, 2019 at 12:22 PM

      If, as the graph above state, the 1% still pay over 45% of all federal income taxes either they can’t use loopholes or the IRS is lying. Which is it?

    • March 19, 2019 at 10:07 PM

      There is nothing stupid about the cap on SS taxes, there was and still is a very logical reason it had a cap in the first place. The cap exists because the SS benefits we all get in old age are capped as well. Why should someone making 10X the $150k person have to pay 10X the SS tax when their retirement benefit will be exactly the same. This means the govt is penalizing them by a factor of 10. BTW, the SS tax is a flat tax with a cap so i think you would like that.

      Moreover, other studies have shown that removing the income cap on SS taxes would only increase the solvency of the SS program by another 5-7 years, it in no way results in making the program solvent let alone making federal deficits go away.

  • February 19, 2019 at 6:16 PM

    I’m not for “soaking the rich but what is wrong with them paying the same tax a poor worker pays? What is wrong with a flat tax? Seriously, someone explain it to me like I’m ten years old because, currently, I really don’t get it. Unless it’s like Leona Helmsly said: “Only little people pay taxes”. THAT, I understand. I am very familiar with the “little people” getting screwed.

    • March 19, 2019 at 10:16 PM

      I would love a flat tax but to assume that rich do not pay their fair share is just a provable falsehood. If you want to better educate yourself then head on over to the IRS web site and download the most recent 2016 IRS federal income tax return data, it is readily available online. You will notice when you look over the data that the rich (top 1%) pay a lot higher tax rate than a poor person, a middle class or even an upper middle class person. The USA has one of the most progressive tax rates in the world – much more so than Europe. The poor in our country actually pay very low or zero federal income tax and many get federal tax rebates in the form of child tax credits, etc. (i.e. they may get $1,000 back from the govt but only paid $500 in taxes so they actually earned money from the govt). This results in many 10’s of millions of americans actually have a negative income tax rate.

      • October 18, 2019 at 8:58 AM

        Maybe the $1000 back was their withholding.

    • March 31, 2019 at 8:03 AM

      Ok. You are elected to tell the 45% that do not currently pay ANY taxes that they now MUST pay the flat tax percentage. I can see the riots in the streets now.

  • April 10, 2019 at 9:48 AM

    I’ve always been a die hard fiscal conservative who favors lower taxes as well. Taxing 100% of the income from just the filthy rich still wouldn’t come close to solving our deficit and debt. It’s the millions of middle class taxpayers that would get hammered because that’s where all the money is. And I am soo tired of hearing those uber-rich and Hollywood elites whose accumulated wealth is already north of $100M –calling for much higher tax rates. Such policies would be a minor nuisance to them but hugely painful to me. If my upper middle class taxes were to increase from $40K to ~$80K per year, I would have to sell my modest house and go figure out a cheaper lifestyle including 1) telling my kids they’re on their own for college, etc and 2) telling my wife our retirement won’t be so nice anymore. Those are some gut wrenching things that the uber-rich will never know. I am starting to think the progressive part of our taxes should be based more on accumulated wealth than just income –and billionaires would pay WAY more than 100% of their income. I want a tax system where increases hurt everyone equally. If I have to sell my house, I want the billionaires to have to sell their lake homes and ski mansions and beach bungalows as well. I want a tax system where increases hurt everyone equally.


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